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Mack’s story: How our spina bifida journey brought us to Texas Children’s

Kelli and Brad Parsons were thrilled when they learned they’d be parents again. They have two children – a 6-year-old daughter and a 2-year-old son – and they couldn’t wait to welcome another child into their family. Just like Kelli’s previous uneventful pregnancies, the couple didn’t expect this pregnancy to be any different.

Kelli and Brad looked forward to their son’s upcoming ultrasound visit so they could see their baby grow and develop. But this visit would be life-changing for them. As the ultrasound technician performed their son’s 23-week anatomy scan, she noticed something wasn’t right. Moments later, Kelli’s obstetrician told the couple they found extra fluid around their son’s brain, and on that same day, she referred them to a physician who specializes in high-risk pregnancies. After anxiously awaiting the results from another ultrasound, Kelli and Brad received a diagnosis they weren’t expecting – their baby had spina bifida.

“We were shocked when we heard the words, spina bifida,” Kelli said. “We didn’t know a lot about our son’s condition. We soon learned the excess fluid around his brain was related to his spinal defect. Our doctor explained the treatment options available, one of which was fetoscopic spina bifida repair surgery. As we talked more about the surgery, our physician highly recommended Texas Children’s to see if our son qualified for the procedure. He said, ‘If you were my wife and child, I would send you to Houston.’ And we said, ‘Ok. Let’s go.’ Because fetoscopic surgery is time-limited, we only had a few weeks to get all of the paperwork together. Our physician expedited our paperwork to Texas Children’s. Within a week and a half, we drove from our home in Nebraska to Houston for assessments.”

When the Parsons arrived at Texas Children’s, they met with their medical team at Texas Children’s Fetal Center®. After an MRI, lab tests and other screening exams, doctors told Kelli and Brad their son would be a good candidate for fetoscopic spina bifida repair surgery. The Parsons were happy but nervous, too.

“As parents, we wanted to do whatever we could to give our son the best chance possible,” Kelli said. “Our fetal team did an amazing job of explaining the potential risks and benefits of the procedure. After answering our questions, we determined the benefits outweighed the risks, and we proceeded with the surgery. We were scheduled for surgery the following Thursday. But, Hurricane Laura came through and disrupted our plans. So, we rescheduled the surgery for Sept. 1, 2020 when I was 26-weeks pregnant.”

Texas Children’s Obstetrician and Gynecologist-in-Chief, Dr. Michael Belfort, and pediatric neurosurgeon, Dr. William Whitehead, performed their son’s successful in-utero spina bifida surgery. At 33 weeks, Kelli began showing signs of chorioamniotic membrane separation. Kelli was admitted to Texas Children’s Pavilion for Women® for the remainder of her pregnancy so her maternal-fetal medicine team could monitor her condition closely. Her family was close by to support her, too. Kelli, her husband and their two kids, temporarily relocated to Houston while she received follow-up care ahead of her son’s delivery.

Despite a few bumps in the road during her pregnancy, Kelli and Brad welcomed their baby boy, Mack Harris, on Nov. 14, 2020. He weighed 7 pounds, 9 ounces, and spent four days being cared for in the neonatal intensive care unit at the Pavilion for Women. Looking back at her pregnancy journey, Kelli is grateful that she was referred to Texas Children’s so Mack could receive the much-needed surgery to repair his spina bifida before he was born, which has improved his prognosis and long-term outcomes.

“We were so overjoyed when Mack arrived,” Kelli said. “I am so thankful to our physicians, nurses and our fetal team for taking great care of me and my son. In so many ways, I felt like we were their only patients, when in reality, we were one of many patients. Everyone took the time to check on us and ensure our needs were met. When I think back to my pregnancy, my husband and I chose “Harris” as a fitting middle name for our son. Since Mack was born in Harris County, we wanted to pay a little homage to Texas.”

Back home in Nebraska, Kelli and Brad say their 3-month-old son, Mack, is doing remarkably well, and is hitting his milestones as expected. He goes to physical therapy once a month, and his physical therapist is very impressed with his upper body strength. He has full movement in his legs, ankles and his toes. Besides having two older siblings who love on him, Mack loves to smile, coo and reach for his toys. His parents say he is a happy baby who loves to be snuggled and has brought so much joy to their family.

“Mack has made so much progress just like any child his age,” Kelli said. “Admittedly, I was terrified when we first got the spina bifida diagnosis. But, one thing I have learned through all of this is to stay strong, be positive and just keep pushing through. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. We were fortunate to have our family and our wonderful physicians and care team by our side who supported us along this journey.”

Texas Children’s Fetal Center is among the nation's leaders in providing high-risk maternal care and the diagnosis and treatment of abnormalities in unborn and newborn infants. Click here to learn more about our Fetal Center and the fetoscopic spina bifida surgery pioneered at Texas Children’s by Obstetrician and Gynecologist-in-Chief, Dr. Michael Belfort, and Pediatric Neurosurgeon, Dr. William Whitehead.

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Kelli Parsons